Given how the events of past 10 months have affected older adults, my colleague, Marla DeVries, and I looked at how ageism has played a role in why COVID-19 has had such a devastating impact on those who live in nursing homes.
A recent interview on the Elevate Eldercare podcast offers an important perspective on this tragic phenomenon. For the Christmas week episode, Green House Senior Director Susan Ryan sat down with Ashton Applewhite, an author and activist in the anti-ageism movement. In 2016, Ashton self–published This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. The book has since been picked up by a publisher and sold worldwide. It has since been named one of “The Top 100 Best Books to Read at Every Age,” by the Washington Post and one of the “10 Books to Help You Foster a More Diverse and Inclusive Workplace,” by Forbes.
Among other things, Susan and Ashton examine how the longstanding practice of warehousing elders away in institutional, medicalized settings helped the novel coronavirus spread like wildfire among residents.
Ashton’s impact on the anti-ageist movement is unparalleled. In addition to her book, she has done a TED Talk, spoken at numerous conferences (including our own in 2016), guest-starred in dozens of podcasts, and quoted in many media stories on the topic. When Marla and I recorded our recap episode, we were surprised that a manifesto is needed to combat negative stereotypes that have the potential to affect nearly the entirety of society. What’s more, I would agree with Ashton that aging is the most fascinating field there is, because if there is one thing all of humanity has in common it’s that we are all getting older each and every day.
In her discussion with Susan, Ashton notes that while the pandemic has not made ageism worse, it has exposed what’s been there all along. In fact, ageism is a “prejudice against our future selves,” as Ashton says in her 2017 TED Talk, which has been watched more than 1.6 million times.
Attitude Is Everything
In the podcast episode, Susan and Ashton talked about lifespan versus health span and how our attitudes toward aging affect how our minds and bodies function at the cellular level. When it comes to aging, she wants people to be fact-based rather than fear-based, because when we do that, we’re more likely to recover completely from severe illnesses and disabilities.
In other words, the goal needs to be about health, not about youth. And that health, as she said, is not binary. It’s really on a spectrum.
Get On Board
So how does one go about tackling ageism, you wonder? Well, there is a resource for it that Ashton helped to create. It’s a website called Old School, and it serves as a clearinghouse of “free and carefully vetted resources to educate people about ageism and how to help dismantle it.” The site includes blogs, books, articles, videos, and speaker information.
For more insight about Ashton and what she’s doing now, take a listen to her podcast episode below: